Warning of the week: Russia over New Year

"The Department of State has made a decision to authorise the voluntary departure of eligible family members and employees who can be spared from duty from the US Embassy in Moscow and the US Consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok prior to 1 January due to potential Y2K- related disruptions.

"In particular, we are concerned about potential disruptions to energy supplies, which may seriously impact [on] the health and the safety of American citizens who are residing or travelling in Russia and of which the duration is unknown.

"US citizens should consider deferring travel to Russia until the extent of Y2K-related disruptions, which may begin on 1 January, becomes clear.

"US citizens in Russia should consider their personal situations and take those actions they deem appropriate to ensure their wellbeing, including departure. When making such plans, it is prudent to take into account the potential for diminished availability of seats on commercial airlines as 1 January 2000 approaches.

"Prolonged disruptions in energy supplies in Russia could put other systems dependent on electrical power at risk... this could mean disruption of basic services, such as heat, water, telephones, and other vital services."

Bargain of the week:

Central America on the cheap

If you can book by Monday, the Spanish national airline Iberia has a range of excellent fares for flights to Central American cities that rarely feature on the bargain lists. Guatemala, Havana, Managua, Panama City, San Jose, San Pedro Sula and San Salvador are all available through discount agents for around pounds 340 plus local taxes, of course.

Currency of the week:

The Zimbabwe dollar

For the people of the most beautiful southern African country (with apologies to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia etc), the past 18 months have been dreadful. The Zimbabwe dollar is worth less than half what it was at the start of 1998 - mirroring the fall in the value of the South African rand, only much faster.

Thousands more travellers have been attracted by the low prices, though it has to be said that the notes themselves are not used as assiduously as they might be to sell the delights of the country.

The Z$2 and Z$100 (below) show the Kariba Dam, which is not much more attractive than most big concrete structures; the Z$50 depicts the foremost ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa, the city of Great Zimbabwe. And it even has a couple of frolicking rhinos in the bottom left-hand corner.

Be careful what currency you take with you. The Lonely Planet's website warns that "due to rampant counterfeiting, no-one in Zimbabwe is currently accepting US$100 notes ... Informal currency exchange is illegal and not worth the risks - you're almost certainly dealing with a scammer".

Day trip of the week: cut-price Chunnel

Eurostar's best ever deal

As mentioned on the next page, it is five years to the day that the first train ran through the Channel Tunnel. And to mark the occasion, Eurostar is launching its lowest-ever fares to France and Belgium.

On any weekend during the next month, you can travel from London Waterloo to Paris or Brussels for just pounds 45 return, and you can travel first class - with free meals and drinks - for only pounds 30 more. Fares to Calais and Lille are even lower, at pounds 39 for second class and pounds 69 for first class.

You can travel on any Saturday or Sunday, but from 13 December the deal gets even better: it will be valid on any day of the week until 16 January. You can't book until tomorrow - however, if you get up early, you could be spending Sunday in Paris.